The Birth and Development of a Rockbridge Tradition
By Marcus Wilson (Class of 2018) | Photo credit: John Daly
Chairs clatter, students squeal, rooms empty, and break looms. No it’s not the last day before summer vacation, but Rockbridge’s annual Captain’s Cup decorating competition, one of the most hectic days of the year. In a matter of hours, classrooms are stripped down and transformed into ornate displays of “Christmas” scenes, all for that coveted lunch (take-out from the restaurant of their choice) paid for by the school’s administration, not to mention the trophy.
For fourteen years, Rockbridge has held its Captain’s Cup on the final day before Christmas break as a way to not only celebrate the holiday season, but also to promote community and fellowship among its students, teachers, and alumni.
The very first Captain’s cup took place in 2006 and was coordinated by then Upper School principal Ralph Janikowsky. “By the time of the Christmas break, everyone was exhausted and no one was having any fun,” Janikowsky explained. “We decided to start the Captain’s Cup to encourage class camaraderie, prepare our hearts for Christmas, to provide some team building and leadership opportunities, and to let our students be creative and enjoy that last day.”
In its purist form, Captain’s Cup is a classroom decorating competition between upper-school homerooms. For weeks students plot, scheme, and vie for the best idea, one that will undoubtedly set their class apart as the best. In the end, decorations are brought in, actors are chosen, and a couple lunch periods are lost in the process, but it’s all worth it once the finished product is presented. Ideally, each room will have tie-in to the holiday season, but as history has shown, this is only a tangential requirement.
According to administrative representative Ellen Wallen, Mr. Janikowsky may have found inspiration for Captain’s Cup in a small scale Christmas door decorating competition which already occurred between classrooms prior to 2006.
Janikowsky instituted and popularized the competition during his second year at the school, but what took place early on was not exactly the same Captain’s Cup we’ve grown to appreciate today. According to Rhetoric literature teacher Monica Godfrey (who was a sophomore at the school in 2006), the event took time to develop and mature. She explained that in the early years, decorations were not as elaborate, likening it to those doorway competitions which proceeded Captain’s Cup.
“The expectations were a lot different then,” she said. “No one really transformed their rooms, so you could still tell you were in a school. Over the years things morphed as people became more creative and committed to setting themselves apart.”
She also explained that originally there were no actors in the rooms, and due to the small size of the school, teachers judged the rooms rather than alumni. Mrs. Wallen noted that she along with Mrs. Davis and Mr. McKenna were the first to hold this honor.
As the years advanced, Captain’s Cup continued to progress. The name “Captain’s Cup” was not even utilized until much later on, referencing Mr. Janikowsky’s experience in the Navy. Additionally, starting in 2011 the school opted to let the alumni play a key role in the event as judges, an element that remains to this day (per Mrs. Wallen and Mr. Keehner).
Current upper school principal Jerry Keehner stated that this choice continues to produce one of the best alumni events the school holds. “We love seeing them, and work hard to keep up that relationship,” he explained.
Class of ’15 alumna Caitlin Flanagan voiced her appreciation for this particular opportunity, “Returning to Rockbridge for Captain's Cup, especially because my family moved, is my only real opportunity to return to the halls and community that shaped me so much and for which I am so grateful,” she said. “A lot of my friends in college never return to their high schools, but I really treasure the time to see some of my old teachers and catch up with friends who I haven't seen in so long and wouldn't necessarily see during my time in Maryland otherwise. As long as I am in the area at that time of year, I really hope to be able to at least stop by, walk through those tiny little hallways, and thank God for four beautiful years there.”
This year, over sixty-five alumni participated in the festivities. As judges, the alumni are told to review each room and rank their three favorites. Once their ballots are all collected, Mr. Keehner tallies the scores and announces a winner.
Winners of the 2019 Captain's Cup:
1st place: "A Christmas Radio Show" by 11A
2nd place: "Back to the Basics" by 10A
3rd place: "Kindergarten Gingerbread House Decorating" by 12A
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Rockbridge Alumni in Collegiate Sports
Caleb Kaiss (Class of 2016)
Caleb Kaiss plays soccer for Houghton College. Read his article "Getting Up and Carrying On" on page 6 of The Rockbridge Reporter.
Hannah Ball (Class of 2016)
Hannah Ball runs cross country for Covenant College: "The most meaningful part of my sports experience at Rockbridge was the ability to learn from a coach and be able to push myself through the challenging course that is at Belvoir. That experience has been so valuable as mental toughness and listening to my coach has led me to several PRs.
"My most vivid memory of playing sports at Rockbridge is one during a basketball game. I remember that Olivia McCarrick, our team captain, had just gotten injured. We were facing a very difficult team, and we were only ahead by 5 points with about 2 minutes left, which can be forever in basketball. I remember us huddling as a team and saying we have to do this for Olivia. It was such a team bonding moment, and we won by just one point.
"Sports at Rockbridge taught me to listen to and encourage your teammates no matter what happens. Encouragement is such an important part of cross country. Without it, workouts can be so hard and grueling. Being there and listening to your teammates is so important, and that is what I have taken from Rockbridge sports."
John Brennan (Class of 2010)
John played club soccer at the University of Maryland College Park: "Participating in athletic competition in the company of believers, both teammates and coaches, was both encouraging and beneficial. We were able to build relationships and keep God at the forefront of everything that we did, win or lose. Mentorship was a critical aspect of the team. Freshman and sophomores tended to look up to the juniors and seniors, who, in turn, had a responsibility to set a proper example on how to play, how to interact, and how to be athletes of character.
"For as long as I could remember, we had never beaten Redeemer Christian School in soccer. It was even more personal for the team because our coach, Mr. Feeney, had a brother who was the head coach of Redeemer. Whether at home or away, in all of Rockbridge's athletic history, we had never beaten them. However, my senior year, we played them at home for one of our last games. Somehow we were able to capture lightning in a bottle, and in a hard fought 3-2 grind, we pulled out the win. The fact that we had beaten our undefeated rival, plus the emotion of getting the win in our senior year, is the reason why this is my most memorable Rockbridge sports moment.
"Learning to be humble and put the team first was an important lesson I took with me when I played club soccer at University of Maryland. At college, no matter at what level you play, you will likely not be the best player on the team. Accepting your role, even if it's less prominent than what you are used to or think you deserve, is critical for team cohesion and success. At Rockbridge, we learned to have a servant heart, put others first, and play for God's glory, even if it's a lesser role."
Alex Buchholz (Class of 2015)
Alex runs cross country for Loyola University: "The most meaningful part of playing sports at Rockbridge was definitely building close relationships with my teammates. I had close ties and the guys on my team became my best friends. It was enjoyable cheering them on and pulling them during runs and races. I'll never forget the ties that we formed.
"There was this one race at Mount Airy. The first year we ran the race we got destroyed. Our fastest runner was smoked by their slowest runner, and we never had a chance. Over the years I kept improving, and by senior year, I won the race. In retrospect, the race wasn't that important, but it was a great barometer for measuring my progress and development as a runner.
"Life outside of Rockbridge is obviously very different than life within it. Being with a team that does not have Christ at the center was a transition that I had to make, but I took the lessons of running with God in the center with me. At Rockbridge, there were tons of decisions that I did agree with but I trucked along, looking at the bigger picture. Loyola is no different."
Ashley Diekemper (Class of 2017)
Ashley dives for Seton Hall University: "Being on a team in college is very different than being on one at Rockbridge. Since Rockbridge is so small, your teammates are the same people you see at school every day in the hallway and in your classes. So there was a big sense of unity on the team at Rockbridge that’s really special.
"I remember at my first cross country race, I was a freshman, and the varsity girls race was one of the last races of the meet. So we were watching all of these other races before ours, and people were crossing the finish line throwing up and stumbling around. I was kind of scared, and I didn’t really know what I’d gotten myself into. But I’m really glad I stuck with running for all four years. I wouldn’t even say that I like running in and of itself, but it was a lot of fun and a great experience being on that team.
"Being on a team in college presents new challenges and a very different atmosphere, and it’s easy to get caught up in the pressure. But when I ran cross country at Rockbridge, we always would huddle up before races to pump each other up but also calm each other’s nerves at the same time. I think that taught me a lot about how important it is to keep things in perspective and have the right mindset going into competitions."
Emi England (Class of 2017)
Emi plays women's rugby at Grove City College: The most meaningful part of playing sports at Rockbridge was definitely the community built around them. When I go back to visit, I make sure to see the people I played with in soccer and basketball because we always really bonded during the season.
The most memorable game for me was definitely the game where I dislocated my thumb. We all played really well and it was a pretty climactic point in the season for the team and for me.
Who I play for was always a really important aspect of the game at Rockbridge and it still matters at Grove City. Even though the coaches and the sport changed, I still do it all for God and it's really cool to see that even though now I'm tackling other players and there's a lot more contact, I don't play any differently than I did in high school because how I approach the game is entirely the same: I just gotta get on the pitch and give it my all and at the end of the day as long as I give it my best and do it for God, the results don't matter because He gave me the abilities to do everything I did while I was out there.
Ruth Wilmot (Class of 2017)
Ruth is on the riding team at the University of Mary Washington: I would say the most meaningful part of playing sports at Rockbridge was the coaches. They always pushed me to do my best on and off the field. Often the coaches were also my teachers in other subjects, which was really cool. The students could grow closer to the faculty through their experience on the field than just being in the classroom.
One of the most memorable moments was the regional MD-DC-VA cross country race my freshman year. It was a hard course and at the very end there was a huge hill that you had to run up in order to finish the race. I was really tired and about to give up on the race when Hannah Ball came up from behind me. She told me to keep going and ran with me all the way up the hill. If she hadn't been there, I would have definitely slowed down and not finished well.
At Rockbridge, I definitely learned patience and that the team always comes first. I tried a lot of sports, but I wasn't ever the best player at any of them. Especially in lacrosse, which I only played for one season, I played only a little because I had no prior experience. I was on the sidelines a good amount of the time, encouraging my teammates on the field. When I first started riding with my college team, I also had no prior experience so I only competed once at the very end of the semester. Because of my experience at Rockbridge, I was content because I knew this was what was best for the team. This semester a few girls dropped out so now I ride at every competition.
I think the best thing overall I have taken away from sports at Rockbridge was its Christ-centered focus. Whenever we played, the team would pray for safety and to give all the glory to God. Now at a secular university I do not pray with a team anymore, but it is such a deeply-engrained habit that now before most of my competition as I am getting on the horse or one the sidelines I remember to pray for my teammates' safety, since riding is a dangerous sport, and for myself that however I perform in the ring it would all be to God's glory and not my own.